'Seek and destroy': Adam Kownacki interview
This weekend Adam Kownacki puts his unbeaten record on the line against Chris Arreola. Luca Rosi spoke to the Polish heavyweight about his 'seek and destroy' ethos...
As was patently evident in his last outing at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in January of this year, rising heavyweight star Adam Kownacki has one thing on his mind when he steps into the ring.
Speaking to Boxing Monthly from his Bellmore base in New York, the Polish American crowd pleaser reflected on his performance against Gerald Washington that had his legion of fans in raptures.
“No fight is easy but I think I did well to get him out in two rounds [it had taken WBC champion Deontay Wilder three more rounds to beat the 6ft 6in American]. I caught him with a couple of good shots and that was that. The only downside was the cut under my left eyelid, but apart from that, it was perfect.
"The Brooklyn Center is almost home from home [Kownacki has fought eight times at the Brooklyn venue] and my fan base just keeps getting bigger and bigger with every fight. I just need to keep the performance levels up. Now that my manager Al Haymon [he is jointly managed by Keith Connolly] has signed a deal with ITV in the UK, who knows, coming to the UK might be a possibility – I’m sure the Poles will be out in force to support me there too.”
It was the 30-year-old’s 15th knockout in 19 fights, cementing his reputation as a KO specialist with a punching output that literally speaks volumes. But despite showreel wins against Georgia’s Iago Kiladze (KO6) and fellow Pole, Artur Szpilka (TKO4 – Wilder taking five more rounds by comparison), Kownacki showed that he has the stamina to go into the deeper rounds.
“I went 10 rounds against Charles Martin [who relinquished his IBF title to Anthony Joshua in April 2016] so that doesn’t faze me. I dominated the fight and almost knocked him out in the last round. He covered himself and hung on the ropes so I wasn’t able to finish the job. Maybe if he had been in the middle of the ring, I might have dropped him. It was a learning fight and a good test against a slick and smart southpaw. My trainer Keith Trimble got on top of me, telling me ‘Where’s your head at?’ as I switched off for a few rounds. But I regained my focus and was able to finish strongly.”
A pro for almost 10 years, the New Yorker’s career came to a shattering halt before it got started. An experience that he would again learn from. “I won my first four fights by knockout and things were going really well. I was a kid growing in popularity and I was supposed to fight on the Tomasz Adamek-Michael Grant undercard [21 August 2010] but I broke my hand two weeks before the fight. I had to have two operations on my second metacarpal. It was a tough time, I got depressed and I put on a lot of weight. I was young and stupid, but it was a lesson not just for boxing but for life, and during those three years I matured as a person and it made me look at life in a different way and get my priorities straight.”
The fighter known as ‘Babyface’ has a deep-seated desire to improve as a boxer. “I know only too well that the competition will hot up and it’s going to get harder. That’s why I’m always in the gym working on all the technical stuff [Kownacki trains at the Bellmore Kickboxing/MMA academy owned by Trimble], making sure I carry my feet a bit with me more. I also do a lot of strength work [with conditioning coach, Chris Carlsen].
"There’s a lot I’ve got to fix, I’m really only at 60-70% capacity, so still a long way to improve and get better. I also picked up a lot of stuff sparring with [Alexander] Povetkin and [Wladimir] Klitschko, two great champions. They taught me what it takes to be a top level fighter and the focus needed to succeed. I was able to hang in with those guys, which was a major deal for me. I also had a couple of camps with Tomasz Adamek [the former light heavyweight and cruiserweight world champion and the last Pole to challenge for the heavyweight title – TKO10 loss against Vitali Klitschko in 2011], helping him to get ready for fights. He gave me some great pointers, a great guy.”
Having first taken up karate (shotokan style), Kownacki laced up the gloves for the first time at the Combined Martial Arts gym in Astoria, Queens when he was 15 before moving to Gleason’s Gym on the Brooklyn waterfront. He would soon learn another valuable lesson, this time at the prestigious New York Golden Gloves tournament.
“I won it twice, the first time when I was 17 but then lost two. tight decisions before winning my second title. I should have been a four-time champion, and I felt that was taken away from me hard. That’s why I don’t like to leave anything to chance now because you never know how the judges might see the fight. I can’t begin to describe how big the tournament is, I had a lot of pressure to deal with at a young age. Fighting at the ‘Garden’ was amazing, and getting to the final after three or four months of intense focus was a great learning experience.”
Leaving his native Lomza in Poland at the age of seven to start a new life in Greenpoint, a Polish neighbourhood of Brooklyn, also came with its challenges. “Yeah, it was tough adapting as the new kid on the block, living in another country and a new language. I got bullied but again that teaches you lessons and I had to stand my ground, so it was another good experience.
"I’m very proud to be Polish American, so with my wife and parents we speak Polish at home but with my brothers and trainers it’s English. So, it’s 50/50. I’m actually going to Poland on Friday [15 February], I have my grandparents, aunts and uncles there.”
The inspiration behind his boxing dream was provided by another Polish heavyweight who made his name in the Nineties. “I got into boxing watching Andrew Golota’s fights, he was such a huge star in Poland at the time. That fight with Michael Grant [a WBC title eliminator in which Grant was down twice in round one; Golota then told referee Randy Neumann that he didn’t wish to continue in the 10th] was crazy.
"I’ve been fortunate to meet him on several occasions, I’m a big fan of his, I like him as a person. An amazing guy. He never won the world title [Golota, Olympic heavyweight bronze medallist in Seoul would fail in attempts to win all four versions of the title although he did earn a draw against reigning IBF holder Chris Byrd] so I need to put that right and become the first Poland born heavyweight champion of the world!”
Next on the horizon for the unbeaten Kownacki is a contest against the experienced Chris Arreola this weekend, once again at the Barclay's Center while his ultimate goal is "to be world champion and unify the division."
The Polish American known as ‘Babyface' remains confident that he can continue to thrill the crowds with his come forward, gung-ho, swinging style. He also has a message for the detractors that judge him on his physical appearance.
“You know, I’m a pressure fighter and I always take the fight away from my opponent. Seek and destroy. That’s always been my motto when I get in the ring. And six packs don’t win fights as I keep proving fight after fight. Boxing is not a bodybuilding contest – all that matters is getting the job done.”